In the lead-up to Washington’s Nov. 6 General Election, The Enterprise interviewed all four candidates running for State House of Representatives Positions 1 and 2 in south-central Washing-ton’s 14th Legislative District. The district comprises all of Klickitat and Skamania counties, most of Yakima County and a small part of eastern Clark County.
For the interview, we put five questions to Position 2 candidates Gina Mosbrucker (R-Golden-dale), the incumbent who works in the hospitality industry, and Liz Hallock, a Libertarian Democrat and lawyer who lives and works in Yakima in the cannabis industry; and Position 1 candidates Sasha Bentley (D-White Salmon), a small-business and law consultant, and Chris Corry (R-Yakima), a commercial insurance adviser.
Below are the questions we asked the candidates to answer. In this installment, the candidates focus on taxes, education, and healthcare.
Healthcare – What could you do as a legislator to push for a state health insurance pool for all 39 counties as opposed to the piecemeal county-by-county market we have now that penalizes people who live in rural areas?
Income disparity/Housing deficit – The west end of Klickitat County is becoming a community of the haves (the tech-job income earners) and the have-nots (those folks still employed in traditional industries like fruit and lumber). Property for single-family homes is still expensive and the private sector is not stepping up to address the need for multi-residential housing and a wider array of single-family housing options. People making minimum wage or just above that cannot find housing here, where their jobs are. What could you do as a legislator to incentivize the private sector to meet the demand that exists?
Education – The Legislature's work in fully funding K-12 education is unfinished. Teacher pay raises granted by school districts in recent months may not be sustainable; school administrators are concerned that tying school funding to a fixed levy rate will lead to year-to-year fluctuations in funding and result in deficits, with no way to make up the shortfall. What could you do as a legislator to address the deficiencies in the so-called education and sustain the K-12 educational system through the ups-and-downs of the property market?
Taxes – What’s your opinion of a consumption tax to help pay for education and transportation programs?
Cannabis – What could you do as a legislator to open up the market again to new retail licenses and to encourage cannabis-related businesses in the district’s conservative counties, such as Klickitat and Skamania?
Liz Hallock: First of all, let me thank you for these substantive questions and the opportunity to answer them. Most papers do not ask truly substantive questions on issues that immediately affect our region, or ask questions that are so open-ended that few real solutions are debated. I am always open to debate and discussion, and I want to get as much information and input as I can before coming to conclusions. This is how lawyers practice law, how scientists do research, and how public policy should be determined, that is, through data collection and thoughtful analysis.
Let me start with No. 5, taxes since I think my position on regressive taxation models will be informative to all these questions. The Yakima Herald recently wrote an article and said Hallock wanted to improve “what she sees as our so-called ‘regressive’ tax system.” There are no quotation marks around the word regressive needed, nor the phrase “so-called.” Regressive in economics means the following, from Investopedia: A regressive tax is a tax applied uniformly, taking a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from high-income earners. It is in opposition to a progressive tax, which takes a larger percentage from high-income earners.
Sales, excise, or consumption taxes are by definition regressive. In theory, property tax is a progressive tax, because higher income earners may own more property. Of course, that is not always the case.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to argue for a traditional income tax. (Republicans love to campaign on telling constituents what Democrats believe, without actually asking us first by agreeing to debates.) But check this out: the average Washingtonian pays 7x in terms of percentage of income what the top 1% pays in state tax. The top 1% utilizes our resources, labor force, roads, but their contribution to our state’s coffers are less than the contributions of the poor and middle class. And in this district, the middle income is already lower than the average middle income around the state.
Well, the Republican argument is that the top 1% are job creators. If there’s a study delineating the success of trickle-down economics in WA state, I’d love to see it. I haven’t found it yet. The reality is the top 1% hold their wealth in assets that see lower tax rates, such as in stocks and bonds. Many benefit from the permanent tax cuts to the wealthy. Many benefit from new rules for LLCs and decreases in capital gains taxes. So increasing consumption taxes is just another regressive tax, which hits working families harder.
Throughout my campaign, I’ve advocated for a bi-annual review of special interest corporate tax breaks. There are over 700 corporate tax loopholes in WA state. Literally in the middle of our Yakima Herald interview, my opponent said she was on board with a tax accounting bill, and I’ve heard her mention it once before. After the former interview ended, I said, all right, your first bill in Olympia will be a tax accounting bill. She just left in a huff after the film stopped rolling. I find it disingenuous, as your op-ed letter writer pointed out recently, to believe someone to support ending corporate tax loopholes if they are funded by the very folks who benefit. We all hear the promise of jobs in exchange for tax incentives, with those jobs never materializing. Read my opponent’s donor list; it includes Amazon (she’s advocated against collecting out-of-state internet companies’ sales tax when they do business in WA), Boeing (remember 2013?), and others.
Our Constitution places limits on property tax increases. The legal question I have, would a capital gains tax be considered a property tax? Technically, it is a type of income tax, and a progressive tax, by definition. I would support a capital gains tax specifically to fund education and gradually move away from the current system in place. The property tax system does not keep up with the pace of inflation, puts an onus on developers and new-home buyers, and can be extremely challenging for families in our district. At a recent event in Underwood, I surveyed the crowd, and only a few of us raised our hands. It’s not a tax that affects the average person. Now, I’d have to do some more research to see how it affects our district. I specifically did not like a prior bill on this because it did not follow some of the federal write-off rules on losses when calculating capital gains tax. The exemption definitions were extensive and cumbersome. But I believe the majority of people in this district, if we properly surveyed them, would support a capital gains tax to fund education, with exemptions for home sales, forest, and agricultural land sales. The federal rate has already been reduced; a progressive tax with a specific purpose might be popular and more effective to fund education than our current system.
Gina Mosbrucker: No new taxes. We have one of the largest projected revenue forecasts in history. Why are new taxes needed? We need to be fiscally responsible with existing money and the new influx of state monies. Do not tax basic health needs. It will only cause larger struggles for the elderly, low income, and all of those less fortunate. The cost of all of our consumer goods will rise, making us uncompetitive in adjacent markets.
Sasha Bentley: I don’t believe a sales tax, or consumption tax, is the best approach to funding education and transportation. These kinds of taxes disproportionately affect lower income families. Instead, we should take short-term steps, like removing the levy cap so school districts can fund their budgets, while we work on a more long-term solution such as a complete overhaul of our regressive tax system. We should be working to reduce taxes for low income and middle-class families while asking wealthy billionaires and corporations to pay their fair share.
Chris Corry: I am against new taxes. We are seeing record revenues in Olympia and we can find ways to appropriately fund education and transportation without raising taxes.
Sasha Bentley: Immediately I can work with other legislators to lift the levy cap. But this is a short-term solution so school districts can maintain a positive fund balance and keep all their educators and programs. We don't want school districts to rely on levies and property taxes to fund basic education, the state needs to provide that funding equitably. The state superintendent wants to implement a capital gains tax on income from stocks for the funding we need to continue supporting our schools and I would support that and work to lower property taxes.
Chris Corry: We have a lot to do when the session starts. We need to create a clear plan for school districts so they can budget. Teachers deserve fair compensation for their work and we need to create a predictable schedule for salary growth. I would also like to see rural teaching incentives to pay teachers more in our rural communities.
Liz Hallock: The amount needed to fund education should not vary greatly each year, thus we need a stable system. See my response to question No. 5, taxes. Capital gains tax could fluctuate as well.
Gina Mosbrucker: You are correct, the McCleary legislation will need more work in the next session. Many of us are dedicated to listening and implementing the changes needed to assist school district shortfalls if applicable. As a caucus, we were briefed that if there were shortfalls due to faults of the legislature, schools would be held harmless/made whole financially. There is a list within OSPI of the schools eligible for these dollars. (Centerville, for example, was just added). Coming from one funding model to a new one will cause unexpected consequences that we are ready to address in January 2019.
Gina Mosbrucker: I am currently working with our Washington State Insurance Commissioner regarding preventing our counties from limited or non-existent coverage for rural residents. Recently, we were one of two counties in crisis with no providers. We were able to quickly secure two providers, which is not enough. We need health care accessibility. This is a legislative priority for the 2019 session. I look forward to finding solutions and being the voice of rural Washington.
Liz Hallock: The Stranger magazine listed those candidates who would move towards a single-payer system, and that included me and Sasha Bentley. The question all legislators grapple with is how to fund it. The reality is that we live in a district where many are relying on federal Medicare. At Memorial Hospital in Yakima, there was an uproar when the hospital announced it would only accept Medicare Advantage (private plans). The hospital reversed the decision, which was the right move, and I would sponsor legislation to ensure such discrimination on the type of Medicare plan does not occur again.
But keep in mind the stark reality. These hospitals are not going to be economically viable if Medicare continues to be de-funded at the federal level, and estimates are that this will happen in fewer than 10 years. Although claims are almost always approved on the federal plan, the reimbursement rate is a pittance. Doctors and hospitals are losing money; it makes sense they’d prefer the Advantage plans with their automatic flat rate reimbursements monthly. But private insurers are in the business of making money, and this claim that they don’t deny coverage and cover everything Medicare does cannot possibly be true. My father was a country physician. He still is. Private Medicare insurers, despite having a less cumbersome billing process, deny claims. They also require pre-certification of procedures. I am open to debate on this, but to me, it appears that private health insurance companies deny claims and corral services in order to make money. To me, a libertarian champion of free markets before the government steps in to regulate inefficiencies, this seems like a broken system that needs reform.
In a single-payer system, there can still be room for private insurance for those who want to add it in addition. Right now, my health-care premiums are subsidizing the person who pays no penalty for not having insurance. And no doctor in Yakima takes my insurance which I got off state exchange, except the Farm Worker’s clinic, and there’s a 6-month waiting list. So, I’d rather have something I can walk into any doctor and use, then be paying hundreds of dollars a month for something I can’t use.
In addition, I do not agree that temporary insurers are “new insurance options,” as Trump dubbed them in his USA Today op-ed. They will deny re-covering you if you are really sick. I had one. I got cancer. No insurer wanted anything to do with me. Trump also claims he’s not actively working against removing the requirement of insuring pre-existing conditions from the Affordable Care Act: a blatant lie. His administration has a lawsuit that is ongoing that if successful, will allow insurance companies to deny coverage to cancer survivors like me.
We need to strengthen our states’ laws to ensure our most vulnerable have coverage. We need to figure out a way to find funding for our poor seniors, the most vulnerable, as federal programs become de-funded. From there, we need to find a way to move towards single-payer in WA state. I do not believe we can do it alone. But along the West Coast, we have the political will to save lives and expand health coverage to all Americans.
Sasha Bentley: I think we need to take a multi-pronged approach so that we take care of our short-term and long-term health care needs. The healthcare crisis in Klickitat County was a wake-up call; we need to work to ensure that coverage is available for everyone in Washington.
House Bill 2408 has taken steps to help ensure that no county is left behind by requiring insurance plans covering state or school employees to offer at least one silver and one gold plan on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange beginning in 2020. House Bill 1026 would essentially create a state-wide pool while providing health care coverage for all. Whether we work with the private insurance industry or move to universal health care, we need to always work towards the goal of reducing health care costs and increasing coverage, with a focus on prevention and public health.
Chris Corry: I am concerned about making sure we have quality health care insurance options in Washington. I would like to see more options for insurers in the state. A more robust market will be better for rural communities and allow for lower premiums